Armed. With white supremacy. Systemic whiteness is the deadliest of weapons. It is the first defense. It is absolute protection. Unrelenting, unforgiving and unapologetic.
Amy Cooper, Derek Chauvin, Gregory McMichaels, Travis McMichaels, William Roddie Bryan. Armed, white and deadly. Individually, institutionally, politically and societally. One held a phone as she held a leash, one held a gun, one held the wheel – all harnessed the particular power of white supremacy. Whether you are progressive or republican, it is your whiteness that protects you.
It is a deafening violence that consumes black life, evades responsibility and continually excuses itself from the table of accountability.
We are living in a society where white supremacy is bedrock, bedlam and benefit. White America’s white progressives, white activists, you who claim a progressive politics, a commitment to justice - and an ally-ship of sorts - must reckon with the inhumanity of your fellow white brethren. The consistent specific work to individualize, humanize and reason with whiteness is as cancerous as the calculated effort to dehumanize blackness. White supremacy is the definition of inhumanity. Chauvin lacks humanity, as do the four officers who joined him. As does Amy Cooper, as do Gregory and Travis McMichaels and William Roddie Bryan.
Chauvin’s casual, calculated cruelty keeps me awake.
I lived in New York for 8 years, I have chosen family there, I still claim it as a creative home. I now live on another Continent. I have gone to sleep at night and can still see a knee, a neck, and a black man calling for his babies and his mama as his breath was stolen by white supremacy in full uncaring, unapologetic view of the world.
You may think you are armed with progressive politics so that sets you apart from Chauvin. It does not. You cannot take refuge there. Your politics are neither haven nor shelter. For too many of you, your inadequate response, rage, and reckoning with your white brethren and sistren of similar and different party-political stripes reeks of an ally-ship-with-benefits. Told to step up, instead you step aside. You will hold your hands up at a rally, and throw them up in despair when tasked to make systemic change.
With Amy Cooper, there was a racialized emotionality. She racialized her non-existent vulnerability, weaponized it, and then mechanized it in pursuit of violence against a black man. Losing her job matters. Folk will say it is not about that white woman, it is about dismantling systems. Indeed. But that white woman weaponized a history, a system of white supremacy in order to bring state sanctioned racist violence on to the head of a black man. Her actions stand firmly in the center of white supremacy’s wheelhouse. So, yes it is absolutely about that white woman. Connect the individual to the institutional.
White progressives must also lose in their project of dipping out of their progressive politics and into white supremacy, expecting to always get grace with their toe in, toe out deadly dance, dangling progressive politics in the faces of those demanding accountability, and sustained active ally-ship on racial justice.
We black folk take on the emotional labor of racism, we are required to do the emotional labor of revolution, and we are expected to engage in the emotional labor - the emotional gymnastics - of do-wrong-meant-well white folks. What are you doing – other than asking black folk, what you should be doing? That ask is unloving, unjust. It is lazy. And its laziness is offensive. It lacks compassion, is devoid of empathy, uncaring of the pain it causes. And then you ask again.
Black folks are unarmed, and we are dying. Denied the benefit of the doubt, empathy, and compassion. Denied breath. We are armed instead with untreated trauma. That is deadly. It drives a devastated, traumatized, grieving, hurting, rage-filled people onto streets, unmasked and exposed to the deadly coronavirus. Unmasking, exposing a trauma that too often goes unacknowledged, unrecognized, and misunderstood.
Pain is too small a word to describe the entire history that came to life in watching four white policemen murder George Floyd. Rage is too inadequate a feeling to describe what welled up in the bellies, souls, hearts, and minds of millions of black people who watched the video. Hurt is too ineffective a word to express what happened within the blood and bones of global Black people.
There is no language. There is no coherent argument for risking a pandemic to protest. There is no logic you can apply to adequately reflect the range of emotions, emotional history, ancestral memory, trauma that erupted within black folk, and drove thousands onto streets to be met by escalating police violence, presidential brutality and media scrutiny.
Property. There is an anger in its destruction. The lamenting and hand-wringing and words languaging the ruin of property as unacceptable, unhelpful and unfair is forever forthcoming. Because in America property has always mattered more than people. And when black people were property that’s when their loss was lamented. That loss was lamented directly in proportion to their labor, not their life and its preciousness to those who loved them. Their lost humanity? Never has that been considered, much less a loss mourned or missed.
Black folk are expected to manage their trauma, and measure their tone in expression of that trauma. Scream, but do it in a tone that does not offend, disturb or agitate. They are expected to coherently articulate their trauma, make it legible to mainstream audiences, and even to one another. Why would you protest? They ask. Why would you risk COVID? They want to know. Rage and hurt and pain and terror is what we are looking at. It is incoherent, illegible, extraordinary, historical, intimate, familial, political, national, personal. It is a living graveyard of haunted loss after loss manifest on global streets.
Trauma cannot be managed. It must be healed, it must be treated. Untreated trauma shapeshifts us all. It lingers and manifests. Where does your grief go? Where do you store it? What is on top of it? What happens when there’s no more room in your body to hold the grief? What do you do then? Where do you go? How do you find relief? And yet Black folk strap up their grief, bandage their trauma, gather the fragments of grieving souls and go to work, go to fight, go to build.
White supremacy’s untreated trauma is the most deadly virus. It only understands power in relation to subjugation and exploitation, privilege and centrality. The twin illusions of white superiority and black inferiority drive this systemic deadly brutality.
We speak about "Emotional Resilience." I speak about Emotional Justice. That means confronting, tackling and healing a legacy of untreated trauma that shapes our relationship to each other based on global histories and their contemporary manifestations. Emotional Justice requires an intimate reckoning with this politics of emotionality, this demand we cater to emotional patriarchy – that system where society caters and privileges and prioritizes the feelings of white men no matter the cost or consequence.
Unarmed, dead, black. George Floyd. He is with his mama now. He shouldn’t be.
Armed, deadly, white. Disarm your whiteness, unstrap that white supremacy. Stop resting on your progressive ideology or politics. Dismantle the emotional patriarchy that helped cheat Trump into the White House. Stop weaponizing a racialized emotionality. Drop your weapons - your whiteness, your privilege. Don’t drop it with the intent that you retrieve it later when equality becomes palpable, requiring struggle and sacrifice. No. Lay your weapons of whiteness down, stay down. Your broken selves are your burden to reimagine, reckon with and revolutionize. What systemic change are you prepared to make?
How willing are you white progressives who believe in justice to do that work?
Feature image via ABC News: Roxie Washington, mother of George Floyd's 6-year old daughter Gianna speaks at a press conference in Minnesota City Hall on June 2, 2020.
Esther Armah is Executive Director of The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice (AIEJ). This global institute provides emotionality education in the context of race, gender, culture via the Emotional Justice framework through Projects, Training, Thought Leadership globally working across Accra, New York, London.